The Lockdown – Day Seventeen


It’s all about books the author’s friends have been reading during their lockdown days  

By Zaffar Junejo

Three days back, I contacted friends to know about their lockdown days engagements. I messaged to around forty friends. The instant response came from Professor Dr. Arfana Mallah that nowadays she is engaged in taking care of his father, and takes part in house chores. She also added that since the house-help has been granted leave, so her workload is also shared. I was glad that she responded with a sense of urgency.  She wrote, nowadays, she is not reading the substantial stuff to be shared, except reading some official emails or correspondences.

I just finished the reading, a Gmail message surfaced on the lower bar of my laptop screen, with the status that a new email from Irfan Ahmed Khan has arrived. I checked there were two emails along with the attached articles. One article was of Michael S. Saag. He works as Dean for Global Health and heads the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The essay was published in The Washington Post dated 6th April 2020. Its title was ‘What an infectious disease specialist learned about the virus — from getting it.’ In the article Michael has told his feeling while he was identified Coronavirus. He tells that he confined himself in his home. However, he always thought about the situation, when he would be shifted to the hospital, and immediately put on the ventilator. But, isolation, will-power and some ordinary medicines played the role and he recovered. Another article was of a Nobel laureate who authored ‘Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism’ with Anne Case. The title of the article was ‘we may not all be equal in the eyes of coronavirus.’ It was published in Financial Times, dated 5 April 2020. He tells that the coronavirus has busted the myth that ‘higher status people are healthier and live longer.’ The coronavirus pandemic landed with an exception to the rule. In simple words, the author says ‘it is an equal opportunity infection that does not pass over world leaders, senior politicians, and celebrities. As the stock markets tank, it hits wallets as well as lungs.’ I finished the reading of both articles; it was less than twenty minutes reading. I called Irfan Ahmed Khan and asked what else he is reading. He told that he is reading articles about the pandemic. However, he also told me that he plots the government data of Coronavirus on the appropriate software, and generates the trends and proportionality. He also told me that he is not reading any serious stuff, except the articles, and seeing the Twitter traffic. Amid the conversation, again Gmail’s notice appeared about Dr. Khatau’s email.

I left the write up in its midst and went out to buy milk and other household items. I came back and opened the computer, and surfed the Facebook. I found a message from Ali Nawaz Nizamani in response to my request – ‘The Lockdown Days’ Reading.’ He wrote that he has finished the Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. He also told that Noor Muhammad Sheedi introduced Benjamin Franklin to him. Nizamani mentioned that Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography introduces him to other writers, who had influenced Benjamin Franklin. Resultantly, he decided to read ‘Gurus’ of Benjamin Franklin, and calls it the backward process of learning. Further, he mentioned that Franklin was too much influenced by John Locke. Therefore, he searched Wikipedia to know more about John and his works. According to his initial reading, John Locke was the one, who argued to separate the religion and state, and he was also the promoter of human liberties.

He wrote that Benjamin Franklin was vegetarian, bibliophile and diarist. He decided to read Dialogues of Franklin, but couldn’t continue, because of its translation. In the name of Urdu, it was just Persian. So, he thanked the book and put it back to its place on the library’s shelf. He told that now, he has started biography of David Hume.

Soon, Noor Muhammad Sheedi, from village Karam Khan Nizamani came in contact and told that in these lockdown days, he is reading ‘Spartacus,’ novel. Howard Fast has authored it. He told that Riaz introduced him to the book. He told an interesting story that how the book came into discussion and then became part of the reading list. The story goes like this, one day Riaz and he discussed slavery. He was of the view that Ashoka the Great was the one, who abolished slavery. However, Riaz believed the first one was Spartacus. However, the googled data check mechanism revealed that Ashoka was the first one rather than Spartacus.

I was also bumped into the name of Howard Fast, while I was reading about Richard Feynman, who was an American theoretical physicist, and associated with the Manhattan Project. He told that in the 1950s the USA agencies usually tracked down the scientists, journalists and other professionals, who somehow had been associates with the socialist ideologies or the communist party. I recall, Howard Fast around 1950 was asked to provide the list of his socialists or communist friends, which he refused, and was awarded three-month imprisonment, although he was one of the finest authors of the USA.  Fast in total wrote eighty works/books, it included anthologies of screenplays, poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. However, his historical novel Spartacus was one of the best works.

Another response came from Dr. Isa Daudpota that in the lockdown days, he has read Ed Yong’s book entitled, ‘I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.’

Ed Yong traces microbes’ story, which is spread over to 3.7 billion years – the origin of life to the current political scene. The book reveals that in our biological world there are millions and millions of microbes and bacteria.  He has highlighted the positive aspects of the microbes (microbiome.) These are the ones, which protect our bodies and support our body mechanism. The most cherished part of the book is that the author not only introduced the microbe and bacteria but also introduces professionals, doctors and scientists who are working as frontline warriors.  In a way, the book unbelievably aligns ‘seen and unseen creatures’ – which are partnering with us in a good as well as a bad way. The deep study of the book and reflection over it might help us to see the nature in different ways.

(Zaffar Junejo, Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods)

For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier

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